Israeli Elections 101, Understanding the Israeli election process

With elections in Israel taking place tomorrow, here is a comprehensive guide to understanding the process.

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Minimum needed to get into the Knesset, and how elections work

There are 120 Knesset seats in the knesset. They are allocated by proportional representation to party lists. In order to enter the Knesset, a party needs to receive at least 3.25% of the popular vote. Voter turnout is expected at 4+ million Israelis meaning that a party must win about 140,000 votes to pass the threshold to get in.

Each seat will represent some 35,000+ votes. So the minimum will be 4 seats. Therefore winning less than four seats while still crossing the threshold is unlikely.

After the initial seat allocations are made, the votes to parties which failed to cross the electoral threshold are divided up among the remaining parties, in proportion to each faction’s share of the vote. In other words, votes to parties which fail to enter the Knesset are distributed to those parties which passed the threshold, which the larger parties receiving a larger number of those ‘extra’ votes.

For example, in 2015, the two largest parties – the Likud and the Zionist Union – each received two ‘extra’ seats, given to them based on the votes for parties which failed to cross the threshold. The Likud received 23.4% of the vote, or the equivalent of 28 seats, yet in the final count ‘won’ 30 mandates. The Zionist Union, similarly, got 18.6% of the vote, or the equivalent of 22 mandates, yet ‘won’ 24 seats in the final count.

No single party has ever won an outright majority in the Knesset, making coalition governments the norm. After the election and consultations with party leaders, the president asks the candidate whom he judges has the best chance of forming a coalition to try and put together a government. That is usually the person heading the largest party, but not necessarily.

That candidate has 28 days to form a government, with a possible 14-day extension. If he or she fails then the president tasks a different candidate with the job. In the 2019 election, over 6 million Israelis (6,339,729 to be exact) are eligible to vote, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Around 10,000 polling stations around the country will open at 7:00 a.m. and will remain open until 10:00 p.m., at which time television exit polls will try to predict who will form the next government. The official results will be published on Wednesday morning.

Alliances and Vote Sharing

In addition to receiving extra votes from parties which failed to cross the electoral threshold, lists which do manage to enter the Knesset can also win ‘extra’ seats through vote-sharing alliances with other parties.

Based on the Bader-Ofer method of voting sharing, two parties (or joint lists) may sign a pre-election agreement to ‘share’ surplus votes.

Under this arrangement, if one of the parties in the agreement is just short of an additional seat and the other party has enough ‘extra’ votes beyond the seats they’ve been allocated, those ‘extra’ votes are transferred to the first party, giving them an additional seat.

This election cycle, several large parties signed vote-sharing deals, including the Likud with the Union of Right-Wing Parties, the New Right with Yisrael Beytenu, United Torah Judaism with Shas, the two Arab lists with each other, and Labor with Meretz.

Teaming up

Parties are able to join another party and yet still be a separate entity.

Both parties remain independent entities, and run separately in municipal elections, negotiating the terms of their joint ticket every election cycle.

Last time around, three right-wing parties – Jewish Home, the National Union, and Otzma Yehudit – formed a similar joint ticket, dubbed the Union of Right-Wing Parties. This time it is called Yemina.

Joint lists function in some regards like parties, even though they are in fact collections of smaller parties. While the member factions often retain a high degree of autonomy within the larger list, in terms of elections, they are treated as a single party. The joint ticket submits a single Knesset slate to the elections committee and runs under a single letter(s) symbol – represented by either one, two, or three letters, which appear on the joint list’s slips in every voting booth around the country.

Who will win most seats?

The race is tight but most polls give Netanyahu a slight edge over Gantz.

Likud: Many of its members oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu, in a last-minute election promise, said he would annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank if he wins another term. They also champion tough security policies when it comes to Iran, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Blue and White, headed by former IDF chief Benny Gantz: Gantz has called for pursuing peace with the Palestinians while maintaining Israeli security interests. He has signaled he would make territorial concessions toward the Palestinians but has also sidestepped the question of Palestinian statehood.

While Netanyahu will likely win more seats – although it is possible for Gantz’s party to overtake the Likud – It will be tough for Likud can form a coalition with 60+ seats. It will likely require Liberman to join, but he is the one who tanked Government last election.

Without Lieberman, Gantz cannot either for a government thus making it an ‘odd’ election.

Netanyahu needs the most seats AND for the right to hit 61 seats without Lieberman – something no polls indicated. The closest were 59 seats for the right.

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